Obedience. When we talk about God the Father, we usually include the words “obedience”, “discipline”, and the “Will of God”. We think of our own fathers and the times that they disciplined us when we were young. We obeyed our father because he was the authority in our home, because we trusted that he knew what would be good for us even though we did not really understand why at that time, and because we loved him. As children we learned to jump when he said “Jump!” and stop whatever we were doing when he commanded “Stop doing that!” In this way we learned right from wrong, and acceptable behavior and moral values. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that each of us grew up imitating our father in many ways and following his example.
My father did not often go to church and yet I learned from him an all-encompassing love for God through his appreciation of nature and the beauty of God’s creation and creatures. He taught me the value of hard work, honesty, integrity of actions and life-style, and “making do with what you have”. He would take time out of his work (as a dairy farmer, his work never ended ) to teach me how to do something, and then expect me to do it to the best of my ability thereafter. He looked for new and better ways of farming, even while sticking to certain traditional methods that he felt comfortable with. I’m sure he disciplined me although I can’t remember any specific instance. I obeyed him and trusted him and loved him.
As a result I now view obedience as a vehicle for growth rather than just a force for discipline. The Dictionary of Biblical Theology emphasizes this position by saying that “obedience is far from being an endured constraint and a passive compliance; it is, rather, the free adherence to the plan of God still enclosed in mystery but proposed by the Word of faith; and this obedience permits man to make of his life a service to God and an entrance into His joy.”
OBEDIENCE IN SCRIPTURE
From the Garden of Eden onward we see examples of obedience to God’s will contrasted with the drama of disobedience. In the Creation story in Genesis, chapter 1, God gives man dominion over all living things. And the Word tells us, “And so it happened.” (v.30) Imagine what would have happened then if the birds and the fish and the animals had disobeyed God’s plan for them by refusing to cooperate with man, or if the sun had refused to shine in sequence with the moon and stars!! But we read in Baruch, chapter 3, that “He … dismissed the light, and it departs, calls it, and it obeys him trembling; Before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice; When he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are!’ shining with joy for their Maker.” (v.33-35) And yet from the very beginning despite the wonders of the Garden of Eden Adam disobeys God, involving all his descendants in his rebellion, beginning the drama of disobedience.
But God the Father does not just stand by and watch His children grow farther and farther away from Him. He stirs up the faith of Abraham, and to assure Himself of that faith, He makes it pass through obedience as He directs Abraham to leave his home country, then to offer his son Isaac as a holocaust. The whole existence of Abraham rests on the Word of God, but this Word constantly forces him to go forward trustingly and perform acts whose meaning escapes him. Thus obedience is for him a test from God, and for God a priceless witness to his faith. As a result God makes a solemn covenant with Abraham and His people, ”I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky … and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing – all this because you obeyed my command.” (Gen. 22:15-18)
Throughout the Old Testament this sometimes delicate and many times violent counterpoint of obedience vs. disobedience continues. St. Paul in Romans, chapter 1, lists in graphic detail the many sins of disobedience that the people of God committed throughout the years. Then in subsequent chapters he discusses God’s just judgment and how we may be put right or justified with God – through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, through faith in God, repentance of our sins, and through the indwelling of the Spirit of God in us. Chapter 8 of the book of Romans is a hymn describing the Victory of Life as a Christian, with verse 28 promising: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” St. Paul ends by saying: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, (nor anything else…) … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As we read the Scriptures we can see that God tailors unique opportunities for each of us to obey His Word, to love Him, and to love others. There is no set formula for obedience since obedience to God’s will embraces the wide horizon of everything we do, every opportunity set before us, every difficulty or problem we are confronted with. The challenge we face moment to moment is to choose to be obedient to His will. Many times if we are not careful we can get so caught up in the big picture of what we are doing and where we are going that we miss each moment that God places before us. Author Liza Marzano says, “It’s my job to be obedient in each moment; it’s up to God to weave those moments of obedience into a tapestry that glorifies Him.”
It is easy to say, “Oh, yes, I promise to obey.” But what about observing the traffic rules even when no one is around, or doing something without complaining or grumbling that you dislike to do, or submitting to a decision made by your husband that you don’t necessarily agree with, or paying your taxes correctly, or being completely honest in your speech?
GROWING IN OBEDIENCE
How can we grow in obedience? St. Gregory believes: “By the other virtues we give to God what belongs to us; by obedience we give Him ourselves.” The same saint teaches that all the other virtues follow in the train of obedience and by its influence are preserved in the soul.
There are three simple things we can do to help us in our struggle for obedience. Firstly, we need to practice listening to God. It is difficult to hear His voice with the anxieties of the day each clamoring to be first on our “worry” list, when the TV or radio is on full volume, when we are too tired or too busy to hear His voice. As we spend time with God, we need to listen more than talk. And the more we practice listening to His voice, the better we can recognize His voice amidst the noise of the world.
Secondly, we need to be honest. Do we really want to hear what He has to say to us? Let us admit that sometimes we don’t want to be obedient; we go into a “me-first” mode; we don’t want to care for others; what about me? Recognizing this, we should tell God honestly how we feel, trusting in His love and understanding and kindness to change our selfishness into obedience. When we are honest with God, we are more likely to hear Him clearly when He speaks to us. Being honest also implies that we are disposed to do what He will tell us to do.
Lastly, we need to listen to God with a spirit of gratefulness … for the expectant faith that He will speak to us, for the grace to hear His voice, and for the willingness to obey. When we choose to follow God moment by moment, He leads us in paths that we would not otherwise choose to follow and our lives become much more exciting along the way!
What is important is that we dispose ourselves to hear His voice moment by moment, and that hearing His voice, we decide to choose to obey rather than continue the age-old drama of disobedience that results in discipline. We find that obedience becomes easier as we learn to listen, growing in trust, love and the unshakable faith that whatever happens to us (whether we like it or not), God will turn into good, either for oneself or for those around us.
The bottom line is that if we obey God willingly, this act of obedience spurs our growth as Christians. But if we do not obey God for whatever reason, God will force our obedience and then the act of our reluctant and grumbling obedience becomes a force for discipline. The way I look at it, I’d rather grow than be subject to discipline. Wouldn’t you?